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Amanda R. Howland is a writer and noise musician living in Lakewood, Ohio. Her fiction can be found in Bird’s Thumb and Adanna Literary Journal. She has a degree in fiction from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts Program (NEOMFA). Amanda has been practicing yoga for years and is inspired by the wild power of nature and the organic texture of consciousness.
Sandy always asks me as I labor over the Saturday breakfast stove to tell him about the sperm. He squirms in his chair, making me nervous. It gets harder to take each time my giant eight-year-old son breaks a chair.
“Before I was a mail carrier…”
“Mail man! Mail man!” He loves this because I’m his mother.
“Before I was a mailman,” I slipped two eggs over easy onto his yellow plastic plate that had come in the dog food bag when I was a kid, “I was a short order cook.”
“When I was just a wee one.”
“Yes—when you were smaller than Camus.” The cat. “And people would say, and I’d never heard this before, but people would ask me to, take the sperm out of their eggs.” I look at him with a flat face.
Sandy squints his eyes, hugs his belly, wiggles and laughs with raspy pleasure. “Mama—you’re so fun.” It eases my headache.
Sandy doesn’t look like his dad or me. We’re both dark-haired, dark tanned and skinny. Wiry curly hair and wiry knobby bodies. We’re always bumping knees in bed. Sandy, short for Alexander Junior, is fluffy and white and toe-headed. I have big Bette Davis bug eyes, but my son’s are deep set. We’re all tall. People have always pegged Sandy for being older, sometimes as much as four years older than he is. I search for the ancestor that looked like Sandy. He was derived from somewhere. I hope to find something on the internet family tree things, some old frontiersman who looks like my son. I laugh, thinking of my Sandy in a coonskin cap by a fire somewhere. His skin is so pink, I can’t even imagine a Hollywood smudge of frontier dirt on his cheek.
He recently asked the hairdresser to leave a little in the back of his buzz cut because he wanted to ‘grow a mullet like Uncle Rick.’ My brother. I was embarrassed. The hairdresser was amused, but confused. I said, ‘just, you know, maybe use a longer guard right there.’ I touched his hairline in the back.
He likes my uniform: blue shorts, special hat. Sometimes after work on Wednesdays, after Sandy comes home from the cub scouts, we sit around the living room in our uniforms for fun. Some Wednesdays turns into all Wednesdays. One of our rituals. I don’t ask if he’s thinking of our other Alexander, Senior, who is wearing a uniform, too. Tan camouflage out in Afghanistan, somewhere. His third tour in five years. Due home by Christmas, but we haven’t heard from him since school started. Every breathing second he is gone, I feel our tripod straining against the fall.
At Sandy’s bedtime one Wednesday night, Rick comes over. Sandy’s climbing on him like a pup, so I can’t put him to bed. I pull Sandy back as he leaps up to grab my brother’s moustache.
“Give it! Give it! I’ll get your moustache!”
“But I’ve got your nose right here!” Rick shoves a bottle of Jim Beam into my hand and chases after Sandy.
We all end up in the kitchen, sitting around the tiny table in our uniforms. Rick and I, the mail carriers in blue, Sandy the scout in brown. Three glasses on the table: two bourbons on ice, one sprite and orange juice mix.
“Just came by to check on your habitual drinking.” Rick cheers my glass with his.
“Hey, Uncle Rick, see this table was wobbling until I put a deck of cards under here, see, we have to get a new deck, though, but this old deck was missing a jack anyways.”
“That’s it Sandy. Get the job done. You guys guess where I just been?”
I say, “Yeah, we thought you’d come by Sunday—we had the burrito things.”
“Fire burritos—breathing—haa fire burritos!” Sandy closes his eyes and opens his mouth like a dragon.
Rick is planted in his chair. We’ll have a long night finishing that bottle after Sandy goes to bed. “Mesopotamia,” Rick says.
“The fiddle crescent?” Sandy gets quiet. I’ve been reading history books with him, since they don’t teach anything at his school. “The seed of civilization?”
“Sorry, fellow, no, Mesopotamia, Ohio. Not the seed of nothing. But.” He winks. “I do have a gal down there. But, dig this, guys, me and my new lady friend were walking down the street to a park by her house, she lives in one of those old farm type houses from more than a hundred years ago—it’s real cool. So there’s lots of Amish down there, right?”
Sandy mouths ‘Amish’ silently.
“So, but did you know they rock out? In their buggies, the got some hydraulics on there somehow, and as we were walking, like I heard Madonna’s ‘Ray of Light’, and turned around to see this buggy bumping up and down to it! Ho-ly shit!”
Our faces all crunch up into airy laughter.
I always tried to climb trees when I was a kid. I’d grip a limb with both hands and pull, but I could never hoist myself up. When Rick grew taller than me, he’d sometimes try to lift me up. I’d jerk away from him. It counted for nothing if you got help. My mother said it was because of girls’ center of gravity being lower. But I didn’t know if that was real. I never understood exactly what that meant: center of gravity.
“Uncle Rick, did you see the moon last night? It was red—why does the moon get red?”
“How ‘bout that shit, June?” Rick bumps my arm, still smiling, and adds a few fingers to our glasses. “Madonna. Shit, I like those people. Might move there, depending.”
“Uncle Rick? Why does the moon get red?”
I put my hand on my son’s hand. “I told you honey, the moon gets red when it’s farthest away, it’s the way the light bends.”
Sandy isn’t satisfied. It isn’t enough. I see his face shift, a shift only I can see, and his features turn a fraction of a fraction harder, and away from me.
Co-editor Tiffany Grayson on “Red Moon”: Is it the (new) mom in me that felt so haunted by the last line of “Red Moon” that I couldn't wait to publish it? Possibly. But so be it. Every time I thought I knew what the story was about or where it was going, I was pleasantly surprised. As soon as I got to the end, I reread it. The short fiction I enjoy the most as a reader feels like a friend telling you a story—feels like a story, not just a collection of words on a page. As a writer, I envy Howland's confidence in saying so much in so comparatively little space.